McMaster University defines plagiarism as to “submit academic work that has been, entirely or in part, copied from or written by another person without proper acknowledgement, or, for which previous credit has been obtained” (s.18.a) Academic Integrity Policy. See also s.2 of Appendix 3).


What does this mean?

  • When writing an assignment, you must use your own words and thoughts.
  • When you use another person’s exact phrasing, you must distinguish the text or material taken from that source from your own (i.e. through the use of quotation marks or an indentation).
  • When you use another person’s thoughts or ideas, though you may not be directly quoting them, you must both acknowledge that these are not your own and reference the original source (i.e. through a footnote or other appropriate form of reference).
  • If you are paraphrasing what another person has stated, you must use completely different language, essentially re-writing it.  Altering a sentence or paragraph slightly is neither appropriate nor adequate. And remember, paraphrases still require a reference notation.
  • Thoughts or ideas may be gleaned from various sources (i.e. journal articles, the Internet or interviews).  You must acknowledge any thought or idea that is not your own regardless of from where it was derived.  If you are unsure about the applicable referencing rules, consult a relevant citation guide (i.e. APA, MLA, Turabian, etc.) or speak to your instructor.
  • Each instructor has specific expectations for how students are to acknowledge sources in their courses. These are often explained in the course outline or in class.  You are encouraged to ask questions if you do not understand what your instructor expects of you when it comes to acknowledging sources used in course work or assignments.
  • The work you do for a course must be unique to that course.  Submitting an assignment that has already been graded in another course constitutes plagiarism unless you have sought and obtained the permission of the instructor in whose course you are currently enrolled.
  • If you are unsure whether or not to reference a source, err on the side of caution and do so anyway, as the sanctions for plagiarism may be quite severe.

Why is this important?

The main purpose of a university is the pursuit of knowledge and scholarship.  This requires the integrity of all members of the University community.  As a student at McMaster University, you are expected to practice intellectual honesty and to fully acknowledge the work of others by providing appropriate references in your scholarly work.  Scholars do not take credit that is not earned.  Academic dishonesty is destructive to the values of the University, not to mention unfair to students who pursue their studies honestly.

Techniques to Avoid Unintentional Plagiarism

  • Avoid cutting and pasting paragraphs or portions from electronic sources directly into your document. While this may seem like an efficient strategy, many students get confused and come to believe that the words in question are, in fact, their own. Rather, either cut and paste the entire phrase and place quotation marks around it, noting the URL, or print the page (which includes the URL) for your future use.
  • Become intimately acquainted with the citation reference guide most commonly used by your faculty.
  • Retain all reference and research materials, including previous versions of your work.
  • Practice three-column note taking: in the first, capture the entirety of the text being used, in the second, attempt to paraphrase it, and in the third, relay your own impressions.
  • Develop good academic and time management skills, and avoid procrastination.



  1. Make use of RefWorks, an online bibliography and database manager that you may access from the McMaster Library’s research portal. This tool not only imports references for you, but it also automatically format those (both within the body of your written work and your bibliography) according to the citation convention you select (i.e. APA, MLA, Turabian).
  2. McMaster’s Library has put together online citation style guides, which may be found at Alternatively, purchase a hard copy manual from the bookstore.
  3. The Centre for Student Development provides in-person academic skills and ESL support and a plethora of online resources. See, for instance, its Student Achievement Series at and its Online Resources portals (especially its Referencing Basics videos) at:
  4. A number of universities have developed web-based academic integrity tutorials and/or student guides which you may find helpful to review. See for instance: , and